The highest Executive Committee of the BSPC, led by the new President of the BSPC, Pyry Niemi, held its first meeting under the Swedish Presidency online.
Nearly 60 participants – mainly delegations from the Åland Islands, the Baltic Assembly, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, the German Bundestag, Hamburg, Iceland, Kaliningrad, Latvia, Lithuania, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the Nordic Council, Norway, Poland, the Russian Federation, St. Petersburg, Schleswig-Holstein and Sweden – attended the meeting.
Introduction and Expert Presentations
BSPC President Pyry Niemi, in his welcoming speech, expressed his determination to maintain and intensify the parliamentary dimension of international cooperation in the Baltic Sea region, despite the difficult times caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The President clearly indicated that the current Swedish Presidency would focus in the BSPC on sustainable democracy and how to face common challenges in a changing world. The reason for choosing that priority was not only to emphasise the Swedish Parliament’s celebration of 100 years of democracy but most of all to highlight the urgent need to address the preservation of livelihoods and the fundamental issues of democratic coexistence. In that regard, MrNiemi introduced the experts who presented their views on various aspects of cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region.
Mr Nils Gustafsson, senior lecturer at Lund University, spoke about new forms of political participation, youth engagement as well as challenges and opportunities for democracy. In his report, he questioned popular beliefs concerning the low youth interest in politics. His research indicated that young people did care but engaged in different forms of participation other than the traditional modes, e.g. more in city movements than political parties. The expert pointed out that the opportunity for democracy was to embrace more flexible and easier ways for citizens to engage with politics and to address the challenge – to include and respect new forms of engagements and organisation without falling for Twitter storms and influence campaigns.
Prof Žaneta Ozoliņa, University of Latvia, and Dr Tobias Etzold, lecturer in European Sciences at the University of Trondheim, presented the results of the Reflection Paper on the Vilnius 1 Declaration of 2010 as well as goals, visions and challenges for peaceful and intense cooperation in the Baltic Sea region. Prof Žaneta Ozoliņa indicated that the analysis of the twelve Vilnius visionary statements showed convincing progress in many areas such as the economic situation, people-to-people contacts and the energy sector but also some areas for improvement. For instance, she noted that public-private partnership had not been utilized so far; in the area of integrated maritime policy, a sustainable blue economy and interconnected transport networks had been developed but the activities of the various actors were not always coherent; gaps still existed in socio-economic and public health-related developments between groups of countries in the region; labour markets in the BSR proved to be stable with a low level of unemployment, but the spread of the pandemic would leave its impact.
Dr Tobias Etzold referred to the chapter Democracy, Civil Society and Youth of the Declaration, reporting that over the past 10 years, the social tolerance score had increased in several BSR countries, but a divide remained between groups of countries. Across the region, a greater polarisation and a decrease of tolerance to differing opinions could be observed; therefore, more needed to be done to promote tolerance and open-mindedness across the region by bringing people together on various levels. According to the conclusions presented byMr Etzold,significant shortcomings required a more coherent framework for continued strong cooperative efforts and actions in all policy areas, while more flexibility and responsiveness should be developed by regional institutions,with the aim of decreasing existing gapsbetween countries and groups of countries.
Progress report from the Council of the Baltic Sea States during the Lithuanian Presidency with a particular focus on youth cooperation
The progress report from the Council of the Baltic Sea States during the Lithuanian presidency was presented by Ambassador Kornelija Jurgaitiene, Chair of the Committee of Senior Officials of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, Lithuania, and Ambassador Grzegorz Marek Poznański, Director General of the CBSS Secretariat.
Ambassador Kornelija Jurgaitiene reminded the meeting that on 1 July 2020, Lithuania had taken over the CBSS Presidency from Denmark. The outcomes of the Danish Presidency had been discussed on 19 May 2020 in a virtual Ministerial meeting of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, chaired by the Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Jeppe Kofod. The Ambassador listed the priorities of the Lithuanian presidency such as sustainable development, especially in the field of developing green industry; green and maritime tourism; strengthening resilience in the region against major emergencies and disasters; the fight against human trafficking for labour exploitation in the region as well as the prevention of violence against children. Ms Jurgaitiene informed the delegates that,on the basis of the assessment of the achievement of the region and an evaluation of the CBSS’ role in fulfilling the Vilnius Declaration’s goals, the Presidency would begin work on the new Vilnius Declaration offering “A Vision of the Baltic Sea Region until 2030”. Ambassador Jurgaitieneconcluded her speech by calling for solidarity with the young people protesting in Belarus.
Ambassador Grzegorz Marek Poznański drew the attention of the BSPC Standing Committee to the issue of regional identity or rather the alleged regional identity crises. The speaker expressed his opinion that the profound indicator of such an identity could be a cooperative attitude reflected in the strong and dense network of Baltic organisations at the parliamentarian, governmental, regional, subregional, municipal and non-governmental levels. Mr Poznański gave several examples of the CBSS involvement in COVID-19-connected activities: The Children at Risk unit was dealing with mental health and violence among children during the pandemic. The Task Force against Trafficking in Human Beings was monitoring forced labour which had worsened during the pandemic. Then, Mr Poznanski introduced the next speakers from the CBSS secretariat by saying that the young people and their involvement in both the decision-making process and the activities of the BSR were at the core of the CBSS’s political activities.
Dr Kaarina Williams and Ms Aline Mayr provided information on youth cooperation and the Baltic Sea Youth Platform. Dr Kaarina Williams reflected on examples of cooperation between the CBSS and the BSPC on youth issues, highlighting a fruitful Youth Forum and joint meeting with the BSPC Working Group on Migration and Integration in May 2019 as well as a panel discussion in the framework of the Youth Dialog in October 2019 with Mr Johannes Schraps as a panellist.
Ms Aline Mayr described the aims, structure and activities of the Baltic Sea Youth Platform. She underlined that the project had been financed by the Erasmus plus programme and that the setting of the platform had been a joint effort of several BSR organisations. Ms Mayr reported that the focus of the BSYP was to integrate youth organisations from all levels: local, regional, national and macroregional to improve the political impact of youth on Baltic Sea policymaking, develop tools for better knowledge transfer and to facilitate various innovative projects relying on the interests and capacities of youth in a broad range of policy areas. Since establishing the platform, its members had been highly active, discussing and creating ideas in six working groups and contributing to strengthening Baltic identity.
Following the presentations, the delegates discussed questions, comments and statements on the issues raised in the presentations.
The Digital 29th BSPC
BSPC President Pyry Niemi in his summary of the 29th BSPC conference expressed his regret that the delegates could not meet in the beautiful city of Vilnius due to the pandemic situation. He emphasised that thanks to the efforts of Valerijus Simulik and Renata Godfrey, the high-level political representatives of Lithuania had also taken part in this format of the conference, the BSPC delegations had contributed to the content of the conference through speakers of their countries, and the BSPC rapporteurs had been very active. Mr Niemi underlined that the goals had been achieved with regard to the content of the conference. There had been no perceptible difference between the results of the digital 29th conference and other BSPC Annual Conferences.
BSPC Working Groups
BSPC President Pyry Niemi thanked all who had been committedly involved in the final report of the Working Group on Migration and Integration and noted that the topic of the working group, “Migration and Integration”, had been intensively addressed during the 3rd session of the 29th Conference.
The Standing Committee appointed the previous Chairman and Vice-Chairwoman of the former BSPC Working Group on Migration and Integration, Hans Wallmark and Carola Veit, as Rapporteurs on Migration and Integration to follow the implementation of the BSPC’s calls for action and the further development in this policy field.
Cecilie Tenfjord-Toftby informed the meeting about the agenda and plans for the future of the newly established BSPC Working Group on Climate Change and Biodiversity (CCB) which would continue its work under her chairmanship for the next two years.
BSPC Standing Committee decisions
The Standing Committee appointed Mr Johannes Schraps, head of the delegation of the German Bundestag to the BSPC, as Vice-President of the BSPC.
Furthermore, the Standing Committee agreed to the BSPC Strategy and Work Programme 2020-2021
and decided to arrange an Expert Seminar on Democracy in a Changing Media Landscape on 1 February 2021.
To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the BSPC in 2021, the Standing Committee decided to produce a printed 30-year publication including a short input from each President or Speaker of the BSPC member parliaments, in addition to the content overview of all previous conferences.
Further topics of the Standing Committee meeting among others included the issue of the 29th BSPC Resolution and its follow-up as well as the current plans for the 30th BSPC in Stockholm on 29-31 August 2021.